Riga, Latvia

Uber doesn’t exist everywhere, but when it does, man is it convenient (and drinks Does Equis).  With literally minutes to spare, our helpful Estonian local pulled into the bus stop that would link us to our ride to Riga.  This was literally a stop.  One that looks like it would take you to Main St, let alone another country.  Riding in style we enjoyed a scenic ride to Latvia, another gem in the Baltic.

As we negotiated our rollie-bags over the darling cobblestone streets, the little alleyway opened up to a fantastic medieval courtyard, outfitted with a modern open roof lounge right in the center.  Our charming hotel positioned on the corner of the square would be our headquarters for all the surprises that Riga would charm us with over the next five days.

We thought Tallinn was going to be tough to top, but Riga was rad.  Armed with a list of sights to see on day one, we started checking them off bright and early.  Okay, maybe more around noon-ish.  Skyler was really set on seeing The House of Blackheads in Old Town and after we arrived, Leah totally understood why.  The beautiful salmon-pink ornamental building had recently become the President’s new office!! Unfortunately, we didn’t have an appointment to view the interior, but the post office next door was quite quaint.  The Old Town was circled with a beautiful centuries old Church, historic buildings and a museum that humbled and educated us profoundly.  The forced occupation, Nazi rule, new found independence and constant border changes that the Baltic area has been through are incredible.  And yet, the pride and beauty of the city is seemingly untouched.  Following the sounds of a jazz crooner, we strolled into the breathtaking and even more delightful Domes Square.  This had to be the place where all the happy singing Disney scenes were inspired.  Everywhere you look are gorgeous stone or brick buildings decorated with ornate carvings and topped with fuchsia window boxes.  It was only fitting to join the locals with a cold beer and enjoy the perfect day. 

Another lovely part of Riga is the efficient public transit system.  After stepping onto what we hoped was the correct bus, we made our way out to the countryside of Latvia and the Ethnographic Museum.  Leah questioned Skyler’s choice in sightseeing on this one too, but figured perhaps the queen had relocated here so why not!  Low and behold, Ethnography is the study of people and cultures and this open-air museum holds 240 acres of historic buildings, homes, ways of life, cultures, forestry, artifacts, churches, as old as the 17th century… amazing!  We saw, we explored, we got lost, but we failed to conquer the entire museum as we attempted to run and beat the rain cloud and barely made it to our bus stop cover in time. 

Riga’s history and perseverance is impressive, and their modernity is equally as attractive.  A very hip city, we were told to bus it over to the Kalnciema Street Quarter, where local bands play, farmer’s sell sausage and fresh bread (as big as wagon wheels!) and people gather.  We mingled, enjoyed the old sheds and tasted homemade mustards laced with paprika and horseradish. 

So apparently there is a beach nearby and it’s called Jurmala (YUR-ma-la) and it’s as easy as a cheap train ride away.  We were captivated as soon as we stepped off.  Bright flowers, a pedestrian-only main street, ice cream shops and little wooden huts selling raspberries and snap peas.  Then there’s a beach where the sand is as soft as powdered sugar, but the water is brownish-clear and frigid.  Nobody cared; sweet old Latvian ladies were out swimming even when the rain started again and we booked it to the nearby techno-blazing beach club.

And to top it all off, twice actually, we found ourselves at an underground medieval dungeon-cave-like bar that was so perfect it was as if they made it just for us.  But they didn’t because it was super packed, but we loved the huge and abundant beams of wood in the ceiling, sea of burning candles and plethora of beers on tap.  They even provided musical entertainment, with one evening featuring a Latvian folk group looking as if they just walked out of an Arcade Fire video and another, a smooth jazz trio, that played eclectic hits.  This place had it going on and was just the sendoff we needed.